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All Aboard! Partnering to Reach Canada’s National Historic Sites and Parks

Parks Canada celebrates its special partnerships with other organizations this November.  Who are Parks Canada's partners? Some obvious partnerships include the Trans Canada Trail Association, the Canadian Tourism Commission, Canada Post, the Royal Canadian Mint, and Fairmont Hotels.  A unique partnership between Parks Canada and VIA Rail has developed to highlight the special relationship between rail travel, historic places, and the importance of protecting these places.  Many historic places are accessible by rail, and information about them can be found on the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

Travelling through the Rockies, W.J. Topley, pre-1925, LAC PA-032141 / Traversant les rocheuses en train, W.J. Topley, avant 1925, BAC PA-032141There is nothing quite like travelling by train across Canada.  For 125 years, trains have moved people from coast to coast.  For almost as long, Canada has been protecting its cultural and natural resources.  Since 1911, Parks Canada has been protecting Canada's natural spaces and historic places, telling the special stories of the land and people, and helping visitors gain unique experiences from their encounters with these places.  Since 1977, VIA Rail has been providing country-wide passenger rail service, helping connect people.  Today, VIA Rail serves over 450 communities across the country, on a rail network of 12,500 kilometers, which runs near many historic places and national parks.  Because there was a natural link in overall objectives, Parks Canada and VIA Rail decided to forge a better working relationship two years ago.

Wait for a train in a heritage railway station, travel West on the same route as immigrants and tourists have done for over a century, or ride the rails through a national park in Canada's Rockies, and you are in for a memorable experience.  To enhance the experience of rail travel, Parks Canada and VIA have collaborated in the following ways: a "Surprise and Delight" interpretive program was brought onboard VIA's "Ocean Route" in the Maritimes; articles about Parks Canada's historic places and natural areas have been profiled in VIA's Destinations magazine; and a system map has been posted in all VIA railway stations which highlights the National Parks and National Historic Sites of Canada located near VIA's rail routes.

To celebrate Parks Canada's Centennial, the Parks Canada Centennial and Christmas in November getaway package, from November 1-6, 2011, is being offered by Parks Canada, VIA-Rail, and Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge.  Starting from Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, or Edmonton, passengers take VIA's transcontinental train The Canadian to Jasper National Park. To help travelers gain a better understanding of the vast Canadian landscape, on-board Parks Canada costumed interpreters will be on -board to tell stories, play music, and conduct other special activities.  All guests will receive a copy of The National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of Canada (the official guidebook for Parks Canada's Centennial), as well as a customized program schedule, a 100th anniversary lapel Union Station / Gare Union, Amin Buskan, Flicker, 2010pin and zipper pull, a Centennial brochure, and travel planners.  The package also includes entrance fees to Jasper National Park, all accommodation and most meals on the train and in Jasper Park Lodge.  Even a prize trip for four on VIA Rail will be given away to a lucky traveler!

If you start your journey in Toronto, then the breathtaking Beaux-Arts Union Station (built in 1914) is your point of departure. The trip, departing on November 1st, lasts four days and three nights, with the rich cultural and natural heritage of the Canadian landscape unfolding along the journey.  The train heads North and then West through Northern Ontario, passing near Georgian Bay Islands National Park, the historic mining towns of Sudbury and Cobalt, and then Sioux Lookout's beautiful Tudor Revival heritage railway station

Lower Fort Garry, 1914, W.J. Topley, LAC / BACOn the second day of the journey, the train stops in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where passengers will see the recently renovated and awe-inspiring century-old Beaux-Arts Winnipeg Union Station.  Winnipeg is a city rich in culture, and interpreters will likely narrate fur trade and Métis stories related to Lower Fort Garry NHS, The Forks NHS, and Riel House NHS. While arriving and departing Winnipeg, keep an eye out for the Red River Floodway NHS, an engineering marvel which has saved the city from disastrous spring floods for many years; or spot some of the outstanding Chicago-style commercial buildings that define the city skyline and which are part of Winnipeg Exchange District NHS.

Continuing West, the train passes the modest Portage La Prairie CNR heritage railway station and the Saskatoon heritage railway station designed in the International Style.  On this stage of the journey, interpreters will probably talk about the interesting prairie ecosystems preserved in nearby Riding Mountain, Grasslands, and Prince Albert National East Gate Entrance, Riding Mountain National Park, Parks Canada / l'Entrée Est du Parc du Mont-Riding, Parcs CanadaParks.  Heading Northwest, some historic places worth noting include the bungalow style Grand Trunk/CNR heritage railway station at Biggar, Saskatchewan, the early Royal Canadian Mounted Police post of Fort Battleford NHS, and the unusual Ukrainian Pioneer home in Elk Island National Park near Edmonton, Alberta.   After Edmonton, the Rocky Mountains appear on the horizon as the train enters the wild and beautiful mountain scenery of Jasper National Park, one of Canada's oldest national parks and now part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

If you start your journey in Vancouver, then your point of departure is the handsome Beaux-Arts Canadian National Railways station (built in 1917). The train departs on Nov. 3rd, and for one night and one day, passengers experience on-board interpretive programming focussed on the national parks and historic sites of British Columbia, including the incredible railway engineering feat of Rogers Pass NHS and the wild natural beauty found in Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, and Yoho National Parks. Heading East from Vancouver, the train follows the Fraser River and passes the historic Hudson's Bay fur trading post Fort Langley NHS as well as the Xá:ytem / Hatzic Rock NHS, an ancient and spiritually-charged Aboriginal landmark.  In the British Columbia interior, the train passes CNR Station / Gare du CN, M.G. Jefferies, FLicker, 2006the Kamloops CN heritage railway station, and through diverse landscapes that have supported ranches - including the sprawling Hat Creek Ranch - and mining towns such as Barkerville NHS.  The train enters Jasper National Park via the breathtaking and historic Yellowhead and Athabasca passes, first traversed two centuries ago by explorer David Thompson in his quest to reach the Pacific Ocean. 

At Jasper's charming Arts and Crafts Canadian National heritage railway station rail passengers receive a special greeting by Parks Canada employees before a shuttle bus transfers travelers to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge for a two or three night stay.  From November 4-6, guests of the hotel will experience the 23rd annual Christmas in November event, which includes a welcome reception, gala dinner, and seminars that focus on personal wellness, positive energy, and healthy living. What a way to end one's rail trip across the country!

The relationship between Parks Canada and VIA Rail is a special one.  The railway expands our horizons, brings us together, and connects us to our historic places and natural landscapes.  Who could ask for a greener, more human way to reach the National Parks and National Historic Sites of Canada!

Additional Resources:

  1. VIA Rail Canada
  2. Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
  3. Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site
  4. Parks Canada Centennial Partners
  5. Parks Canada National Partners